Husband arrested in 1981 cold case; reality TV show credited

Florida authorities have charged a man with murder in the 1981 disappearance of his wife, and they are crediting a cold-case reality TV show with helping crack open the investigation.

Merl Mackey, 72, was indicted by a Levy County grand jury in September on a charge of first-degree murder, investigators announced Monday at a news conference at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. Mackey's wife, Evelyn "Laverne" Mackey, was last seen in November 1981.

The case broke after Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis invited TNT's reality TV show "Cold Justice" to look at the case, Detective George Loydgren said.

"Because of their tight time schedule, (the show's producers) wanted a case that had a good suspect and maybe was relatively close to being solved," Loydgren said.

The show flew investigators to interview Merl Mackey in Texas earlier this year. During the interview, Loydgren said, Mackey made admissions to being responsible for his wife's death.

Detectives would not say what led them to believe that Merl Mackey killed his wife in Levy County.

Mackey was arrested in New Mexico in September. It's unclear whether he has an attorney to contact for comment on the case.

The "Cold Justice" episode aired May 1. The show concluded that Merl Mackey exploited Laverne Mackey, that he isolated her, claimed he had terminal cancer and had her add his name to the ownership of her house.

Laverne Mackey's daughter Kelly Carpenter spoke at the news conference. Carpenter was 14 when her mother disappeared and said she had always thought her stepfather was responsible for the disappearance.

Carpenter said Merl Mackey told her that her mother had to care for a sick relative in Indiana. The relative denied ever seeing Laverne Mackey. Her family reported her missing in January 1982.

"I was always hopeful that this day would come, but we still have a long way to go," Carpenter said.